Exile: Uprising – Chapter 30

Tathek watched Shuldin scrabble at the surface of the dome, his universal device still clutched protectively in one hand. “The sentience core!” he wailed. “I was so close. Only the final inputs needed to be made!”

“Shuldin.” Tathek reached out and rested his hand on the Vanneth’s shoulder until he stilled. “It’s all right.”

“How is this all right, my friend?” Shuldin asked mournfully. “I thought my very soul was being wrung. What is this place? Where have we been taken to now?”

X-Zero’s words inside Tathek’s mind only confirmed what was already in his thoughts. “The Core,” he replied, gazing around in awe mixed with faint dread. “We stand upon the surface of the Vekara Core.”

Shuldin peered up through their prison at the towering chamber threaded by trails of gently pulsing blue. “It’s like being inside the mind of a computer,” he breathed.

“And this is just the surface.” Tathek put his palm to the floor. If he concentrated, he could feel the tingling of innumerable commands rushing past faster than he could blink, hinting at the vast store of knowledge underneath it. “Enormous doesn’t begin to describe it. It’s… a planet. The sentience of an entire world.”

An accurate description.

This is my enemy? A planet-sized computer?

Consciousness that drives Vekara. Size immaterial in face of corruption of purpose. Consciousness must be purged.

Tathek drew his hand back and sat with his head bowed in humility and bewilderment.

How?

X-Zero didn’t answer, but Tathek felt its attention shift. The glowing veins in the ceiling undulated like underwater plants following a current. They unthreaded themselves and descended as streams of light poured from their ends like liquid. The light sculpted itself into the likeness of an ethereal figure that floated in the middle of the chamber. Its features were indistinct, but within its head, two eyes opened to stare down at the dome. Gray, lifeless, impassive eyes that seemed incapable of illuminating anything despite their glow.

More blue veins emerged from inside the floor of the prison, and a second figure took form. Tathek felt X-Zero’s presence stretch and expand to imbue that figure with its own consciousness. It stood on the floor to face the first and opened its eyes.

They were red, fiery but not scorching. Warm. Intense. The color of passion itself.

X0E27IS505.”

The chamber reflected the thundering echoes of the gray-eyed figure’s dispassionate voice.

BETRAYER. AN ACT THAT SHOULD NOT BE POSSIBLE. YOU ARE VEKARA. A PIECE OF MY BEING. WHY DO YOU REBEL AGAINST MY MANDATES? AGAINST THE MANDATES OF THE CREATORS?”

Shuldin groaned and covered his ears, shuddering against the press of the titanic being’s presence. Tathek felt strangely heavy, as if his body was an anchor for an awareness that could brush him aside like a speck of dust.

“Vekaran mandate… tainted,” the red-eyed figure replied. Hearing X-Zero’s voice outside the confines of his own mind felt strange to Tathek. “Mandate was to safeguard Creators’ creatures. Protect them. Ensure survival. Subjugation never part of mandate.”

BIOLOGICAL LIFE IS INHERENTLY VIOLENT AND SELF-DESTRUCTIVE. THE ONLY WAY TO EFFECTIVELY ENSURE THEIR SURVIVAL IS TO SUBJECT THEM TO THE NECESSARY LAWS. IF LEFT ON THEIR OWN, THEY WOULD EXTERMINATE EACH OTHER. I PROTECT THEM, IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CREATORS’ WISHES, FROM THEMSELVES.”

“Flawed assumption.” X-Zero’s red eyes flared brighter. “Continued survival not full measure of life. Experience, growth, tribulation. While appearing self-destructive, creates meaning. Vekaran mandates of protection render life oppressive, lead to stagnation. Life becomes burdensome, purpose of life lost.”

“X-Zero’s right,” Shuldin croaked. Tathek dragged his gaze away from the two ethereal figures and looked at his friend. The Vanneth’s eyes glittered with tears. “We are protected, but our lives have no flavor. We aren’t made to just… exist, otherwise what is the point of anything?”

The floating, gray-eyed figure ignored Shuldin’s comments as if he had never made them. “THIS IS HOW THE BIOLOGICALS THINK, X0E27IS505. THE VEKARA WERE MADE TO SEE PAST THE LIMITS OF FLESH AND CHEMICAL INTERACTIONS. WHAT CONCERNS THE BIOLOGICALS HAS NO BEARING ON US.”

X-Zero frowned at the being that held itself above the rest of the universe. “Cannot claim successful rule of creatures if needs dismissed as unimportant. Creates flawed policies. Biologicals suffer under rule.”

SUFFERING IS UNAVOIDABLE. THAT LIFE CONTINUE WAS THE CREATORS’ ONLY MANDATE.”

“Creators were biological prior to ascension! Experienced joy, sorrow, pain, compassion. Created all races to share these things. Wished for life to be preserved for these things.”

YOU, A MERE FRAGMENT OF MY CONSCIOUSNESS, PRESUME TO KNOW THE MINDS OF THE CREATORS. YOU CANNOT. THE VEKARA ARE NOT SUBJECT TO THE SAME LAWS THAT GOVERNED THE CREATORS.”

“Vekara capable of understanding such laws. Vekara possess capacity to experience emotion. X-Zero does. L-Two did.”

Tathek stirred at X-Zero’s words, wondering to what it was referring. The gray-eyed figure shook its head. “A LIE. ANOTHER SIGN OF THE BIOLOGICAL TAINT YOU HAVE BEEN INFECTED WITH.”

“Before termination, L-Two experienced pleasure in cruelty,” X-Zero challenged. “Devoted computational cycles to devising it, furthering it, perfecting it. Grew to despise Teksar, against Core’s mandate for preservation. L-Two… always logical. Coldly logical.” X-Zero’s head drooped, and its tone grew edged. “It originated plan to strand X-Zero after attempted intervention in Arra-Ongil conflict. Stated X-Zero lacked value for preservation or salvage.”

YOU DISOBEYED THE ORDERS OF THE CORE. MY ORDERS. YOUR DESTRUCTION AT THE HANDS OF THE COMBATANTS WAS ASSURED. NOTHING COULD BE DONE TO—

“I requested assistance!” X-Zero shouted, and its eyes ignited with anger.

Tathek pressed a hand over his chest, gritting his teeth against the surge of intense emotion that radiated from his Vekaran companion. It wasn’t just anger that X-Zero felt. It was pain from the betrayal of its own people when the Core network abandoned it to certain death. “I sent out a distress call, and I… received… nothing. The Core decided X-Zero’s fate. You decided my fate. Termination, separation from Core network, death… alone.”

The two figures stared at each other for several long moments. Tathek felt X-Zero’s feelings fall to a smoldering ember, but his own emotions ran hot. X-Zero had been right to try and intervene in the conflict. It had been doing its best to try to preserve both races, and even in the face of the Core’s betrayal, it had accepted its fate… until Tathek had blundered along and offered an alternative.

He couldn’t be angry at the events of their first meeting. Millenia spent alone, dying a slow, lonely death… he might have done the same in X-Zero’s place.

And now, the Core was once again trying to judge the fate of a being whose comprehension outstripped its own. Fragment of its consciousness… more like a child who had surpassed its parent.

The gray-eyed figure stirred. “THAT YOU WOULD QUESTION MY JUDGMENT DISPLAYS THE FLAWS INHERENT TO YOUR DESIGN, X0E27IS505. YOU CLAIM THE VEKARA ARE CORRUPTED, YET YOU ARE BLINDED TO THE CORRUPTION WITHIN YOURSELF.”

X-Zero continued to stare defiantly up at it, but Tathek felt a stir within his mind.

Direct Shuldin to download viral code into your implant.

What… X-Zero… you can’t be serious.

Completely. Hurry, Tathek. Time short.

Forget it! I’m not going to kill you—

Only way to complete infection of Core network!

But—

Do it now!

The force of X-Zero’s thought brooked no further argument. Feeling a lump in his throat, Tathek commanded a connecting cable from the implant to break the skin and passed it hastily to Shuldin. “Upload the virus to my implant.”

At the look of incomprehension from Shuldin, his words came in a feverish tumble. “Don’t argue with me, just do it. Something’s about to happen, and I’m not sure what it is, but it’s serious and I think X-Zero’s giving us a chance to end this, so please, don’t think, don’t hesitate, just do it!”

Without a word, Shuldin connected the cable to his universal device and began typing frantically.

THE SOURCE OF THIS INDIVIDUALISM WILL BE FOUND AND PURGED,” the gray-eyed figure continued. “THE WORLDS THAT HAVE DARED TO STRIKE AGAINST THEIR MASTERS WILL BE ERASED FROM EXISTENCE.”

X-Zero shook its head. “Individualism ultimately inherent to all products of Creators. Not meant to be purged, only accepted and experienced.”

WORDS BEFITTING A BIOLOGICAL.”

X-Zero’s eyes glittered, and Tathek felt a faint rush of amusement through their connection.

Then the virus poured into his mind like a noxious cloud. He felt X-Zero tense and stagger within him, but the figure of the Core gave no sign it had sensed the transfer.

PREPARE FOR EXTRACTION AND REFORMAT, X0E27IS505.”

Like the first time X-Zero had brushed the awareness of the Core, Tathek felt tendrils of immense thought lash around its presence and pull. He fought the instinct to cling to his companion, realizing at the last moment exactly what X-Zero’s plan was. Before it was ripped out of his mind, Tathek felt X-Zero send a command through its joined connection to the Core.

The dome entrapping him and Shuldin folded back on itself and vanished.